A Guide to Bullying in New Zealand
Lucinda has been worried about her boy, Eric. Lately, he has been withdrawn and distant, preferring to hang out in his room after school. Instead of playing with friends, Eric has been playing computer games by himself. Lucinda has made attempts to talk to Eric, but he denies anything is wrong, becoming mad at his mother for making a big deal of things. Not knowing what else to do, Lucinda is leaving Eric alone.
Eric is being bullied. Bullying is defined as any action in which a person uses their power or strength to take advantage over another. In Eric’s case, as is often the case, the bullying is taking place at school. A friend of Eric’s named John has begun to call him a sissy and a “momma’s boy,” after learning Eric had no dad at home. He has begun to push Eric around, allegedly proving his point that he is a sissy. Eric does not fight due to his family’s religious beliefs and feels intimidated by the behavior of this so-called friend. The manner of the bullying has made Eric feel that if he goes to his mother, he is proving his friend John right.
A UNICEF international study found that one in three children ages 13 to 15 reports being bullied. In addition, one in three adolescents has reported that they participated in bullying behavior. These numbers are staggering. The Ministry of Education and the Human Rights Commission of New Zealand have both been very concerned about these statistics as they are verified by studies by the Victoria University of Wellington.
Bullying occurs in different forms. Typically, the bullying between males is physical and involves hand’s on intimidation or aggression. Social-emotional bullying is employed more by females and involves the use of more emotional tactics to undermine another person. Cyberbullying can be utilized by both males and females and involves using the internet or texting to systematically put down another person. Although the focus of this report is on children, it should be known that bullying is not a phenomenon of childhood alone.
In Eric’s case, some of his other friends have pulled back, fearing that they too will become the object of the bully. Eric interprets this as his friends deserting him, and takes their actions as tantamount agreement with the bully. He feels more and more left out in the cold. He also feels double-bound in terms of seeking help. Any attempts he might make to reach out would be perceived as being the sissy he has been accused of being.
What are the signs of bullying that Lucinda or another parent might be watching for?
- A child who continually says “I hate school” is warning you that something is wrong.
- Unexplained or possibly feigned illness.
- The change in the number of and contact with friends over a short time period.
- A child who has behaviors, learning disabilities or size issues (big or small) that might make them stand out from others.
- Resisting walking to school or riding on the bus.
- A marked change in mood and resistance to talking about it.
It’s not unusual for a young person like Eric to feel he can’t talk to his mother about the bullying. It’s confusing when a person professes to be a friend then turns on the individual, and it’s easy, especially if there are issues (like a recent divorce) to make that individual doubt themselves. With the incidence of bullying so high in the schools, it’s a safe guess for Lucinda to make that this may be going on for her son. The question becomes, “How to intervene?”
- Talk to your child
- Make a plan
- Intervene at the school
- Support the positive activities your child is involved in
Talk to your child
As we stated above, this may be harder than it sounds. Building a rapport around school, and school habits should start from the beginning of school days. But whenever you begin talking to your child about bullying, there are certain points to make clear:
- There’s a difference between telling on someone and the kind of talking that needs to happen to stop dangerous bullying.
- Your child may not be the only victim of a bully – everyone is a victim of such a person’s bad behavior.
- If your child tells you, then you and the school staff can stop the behavior that is hurting them.
- There are many reasons people are bullies; people can engage in bad behavior to be the center of attention, because of their own problems, to fit in with others, or because they are followers and unable to say no.
It’s important for your child to understand that the reason someone has bullied them is not as important as stopping the behavior and that you are on their side.
Make a Plan
Begin problem-solving what your child can do to resist being victimized. Stress that they are not alone.
Go over the steps your child will take the next time the bully acts. Think of things like: ignoring the bully, walking away, telling the bully to stop in a strong voice, sticking with a friend or asking another person for help. Stress that any action is better than no action, and that safety comes first.
Intervene at the School
In 2008, New Zealand realized it was one of the top countries in the world for bullying. The Ministry of Education has been insisting that schools have a plan in place for dealing with bullying since that time. The school must provide your child with a safe learning environment. Letting the school know about bullying brings you another ally. Ask the school directly what they will do to provide for the safety of your child. Keep in direct contact with the person at the school responsible for following through.
Support Your Child’s Positive Activities
Encourage activities and hobbies that are pleasurable to your child and make sure the time is available for them to engage in them. Encourage the development of positive friendships. Make certain that appropriate adult supervision is always present for the activities your son or daughter is involved with.
Lucinda went on to speak more in depth with her son. She had to take the risk and venture a guess that it was bullying going on, based on the signs she saw. Her son was not happy at first to have his mother involved, but this reticence soon turned to relief as she approached him with a plan for problem-solving. Lucinda and Eric role-played what he would do the next time John approached him. They talked about Eric’s fears and how that impacted his behavior around John. Eric learned how to speak in an authoritative voice to say no and “Stop!” to John, then to go right away and be with another friend he thought he could trust.
Lucinda had to take a definite stand about going to the school. In the end, Eric agreed because he saw that the bullying might go on for another person if he didn’t take all the steps needed to stop John’s bad behavior.
But what about Lacey? Lacey is the victim of a faceless bully, through cyberbullying. Lacey is 14 years old, and her parents have trusted her to be on the internet since she was 11. She has a Facebook account and plays online games and is happy to be in contact with so many of her friends from school. Lacey has even made new friends on the internet, unbeknownst to her parents.
Lacey is accustomed to the chatrooms associated to the games she plays. That’s how she made some of these new friends. So she was shocked when she started getting comments in one of the chats telling her to get out of the game, or to sacrifice her main character, “or else.” Soon she was finding lewd comments on her Facebook page, suggesting that she was involved with a boy when she barely knew what they were talking about. Lacey became afraid to go onto the web, worrying about what she would find. Worst, her friends saw the posts on her Facebook page, and some were beginning to laugh at her and believe the accusations. Lacey felt trapped.
Cyberbullying is an ever-growing problem. In 2007, 1 in 5 New Zealand high school students reported being cyberbullied. The numbers are probably much higher today. In New Zealand, lawmakers are considering legislation that would enable a victim of cyberbullying to press charges against the offender. Meanwhile, what can Lacey do?
The same rules apply as for face-to-face bullying, as far as letting an adult know and seeking help to make a plan for what to do. The big difference is in how the adult and child team should deal with the bully online:
- If the online or phone bullying involves physical threats, contact the police.
- Save the evidence of cyberbullying by taking screen shots and keeping track of dates and times the bullying happens.
- Bring the evidence to the authorities.
- Reassure your child that telling on a bully will not result in their losing internet access. (This is important as it is one main reason that children do not tell.)
- If you can, block messages or the person responsible for the abuse.
- Make use of the “Report Abuse” button given on website to let the site know of the misuse of their space.
As of 2013, New Zealand is leading the way in holding perpetrators of bullying responsible for their crimes. There is a law that states that anyone using a mobile device with the intention of harming another person can face a $2000 fine and three months in jail. If the cyberbullying leads a victim to commit suicide, then the perpetrator can face three years in jail and have their name revealed to the victim’s family.
New Zealand has also taken a big step towards the prevention of bullying and cyberbullying, through a new program designated by the Ministry of Education that is amply funded. As of October, 2014, a program called KiVa (‘kiusaamista vastaan’ or ‘against bullying’) has been instituted and will be available to all schools. The program focuses on three groups, the bully, the victim and bystanders, and offers step-by-step suggestions for each of the three groups to institute change. The prevention program looks at the needs of each group in order to assess and direct change agents.
Studies have identified that 94 percent of New Zealand’s teachers see bullying as a problem. However, teachers polled in a study in 2009 were honest in stating they felt under-trained to address the issues, something the new KiVa program should address. The KiVa program will offer teachers a process to deal with bullying as it arises in addition to presenting the bullying prevention system. In addition, Victoria University’s School of Education will be conducting evaluation studies as the program is implemented. This new program, in conjunction with the laws against bullying in place, puts New Zealand in the forefront of anti-bullying action.